Tell us about yourself
Niranjan Choudhary has a mobile office, one that transports him all over America. He gets paid handsomely to stay in hotels and eat at restaurants and to visit some of America’s most beautiful cities.
Niranjan works as an on-the-road demonstration specialist for Cisco, the maker of computer networking equipment. He drives a van stocked with Cisco products to conferences and conventions, companies and colleges that use Cisco products. He simply pulls up and demonstrates Cisco systems to whoever visits the van, known as the Cisco Network-on-Wheels.
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He loves his job. He’s working in his field – computer networking; he’s well paid; he meets different people every day; and he gets to crisscross America, a country still new to him.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Niranjan left India to come in America in 2008 after completing his Bachelor’s in Engineering (Electrical & Electronics) from CMR Institute of Technology, when he enrolled in a master’s program in electrical, electronics & communication engineering at NJIT. He concentrated in computer networking, and dreamed of one day working in America for Cisco, a tech giant known all over the world.
Then one day while he was tutoring a fellow student at NJIT, an academic adviser wrote Niranjan an email. The adviser had heard that the Cisco van was visiting NJIT and suggested that Niranjan visit the van.
He did, and his life has never been the same. For that visit eventually led to him being hired by Cisco. In this interview, Niranjan, who graduated in 2009, talks about how he got hired, and what it’s like to have a job that thousands people apply for but only a handful get.
You visited the Cisco van that day. And you ended up getting hired to work on the van. How’d that happen?
On the day the Cisco van came to the NJIT campus, I was working as a tutor for the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Shivon Boodhoo, the adviser there, suggested I go to the van. I did and spent hours talking to the two demo specialists. They saw how excited I was about the Cisco Systems, and saw that I loved computer networking. As I was leaving, they asked me for my resume. I raced back to school and printed it for them. They gave my resume to company (MAC Meetings and Events Office) that hires people to work on the van, the Cisco Network-on-Wheels. After a round of interviews at Cisco, I got hired. It was absolutely amazing — my dream come true.
How many people in the U.S. have your job?
There are only four Cisco vans in America, with two people on each, so I’m one of eight Cisco demonstration specialists in the entire country. I was really lucky. I was in the right place at the right time and the place was NJIT.
Speaking of which, why did you pick NJIT?
Back in India, I was looking at colleges on the east coast, close to New York City. That’s where the jobs are and it’s a fun city socially. NJIT had the major and concentration I wanted – computer networking — and was a university with a long history and a strong research program. That’s why I picked it.
Where do you take the van and what products do you demonstrate?
I and my partner focus on the 14 states surrounding the Rocky Mountains. A Cisco meeting planner from MAC Meetings and Events directs us to conventions and to other companies that use our products. We cover about 1,000 miles a week, stopping at pre-arranged events. Not everyone can come to our offices, so with the van we go to them. We demo Cisco products such as Borderless Networks, Collaboration, Data Center and internet phone systems — our VoIP. I love the products and interacting with the various people who come onto the van.
So far, what have been your favorite cities? And what’s the most fun about being on the road all the time?
My favorite places so far have been Chicago, Raleigh, Denver and San Diego. I think San Diego is my favorite overall, it’s so beautiful. I enjoy travelling and getting to see the heart of America. It’s part of the American dream to be on the road. Staying in hotels is also fun. My partner and I get to choose the hotels, and we get a per diem for our meals. In terms of the job, I like getting to see how people use our products and what they think of them.
Do you now have an apartment? And where did you live while a student at NJIT?
Now I live a nomadic life! I travel with my job, so the Cisco van is my only stable home! We stay in hotels on the road. But I used to live in Harrison, with a couple of other Indian students. Harrison and Kearny are towns close to NJIT and hundreds of internationals students from India/China/Korea live there. They are friendly and comfortable towns. Almost all stores are close-by and public transportation is easily accessible.
You are an international student. Are you now using up your practical training time?
Yes, international students at American colleges commonly get 29 months to work in America for training. I’ve worked now for five months. After that time is up, I hope to get sponsored to work in America. That would give me another five to ten years in America. After that, I’m not sure what I’ll do. But if I must return to India I’ll be in a good position. Working for a Fortune 100 company like Cisco is invaluable experience that will be respected by any company back home.
You finished your master’s in the midst of the recession. Yet you persisted and found a great job. How did you do that?
Yes, I graduated in Dec. 2009 in the midst of the recession. I was clear about completing my CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) exam before I started applying for positions. Initially, there weren’t many entry-level positions available and I got discouraged. But I did not want to compromise and was stubborn about sticking to my area of specialization. In a nutshell, I would say it took a lot of patience and perseverance to secure my job, which is for me ‘a dream come true’!
What advice do you have for students abroad who are thinking of coming to NJIT for a master’s and then work in America?
A master’s degree is not a passport for instant success – it’s more of a guide to becoming a professional. So I would advice students to evaluate their strengths and choose the right area of study. I often see students choose universities because their friends are there or because it’s easy to do well at a university. That is an academic blunder! Pursue something that you love and can do well even in your sleep. If you have to work too hard to understand something, you can’t make a living in that field.
Did you enjoy studying at NJIT and would you recommend it to students from your country?
Yes, definitely. NJIT has a friendly atmosphere and it’s close to NYC, which makes it a great location. My network classes at NJIT were excellent and helped me get the Cisco job; Cisco products are all networking systems. Also, at NJIT I worked as an assistant for Office of Graduate Studies. The staff there taught me the basics of working in an office and interacting with people. I also tutored at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, whose academic adviser helped me get my current job. NJIT was very good to me and I’m very grateful.